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Rand Paul, ready to run, looks to expand his younger base

Daniel Maschi is ready to Stand With Rand. "Rand Paul is independent, the only Republican speaking against the establishment about ideas that will actually grow the party," said Maschi, 21, of Perkasie, a senior majoring in political science at West Chester University.

Daniel Maschi is ready to Stand With Rand.

"Rand Paul is independent, the only Republican speaking against the establishment about ideas that will actually grow the party," said Maschi, 21, of Perkasie, a senior majoring in political science at West Chester University.

After graduation, he plans to help elect the Kentucky senator president.

As Paul prepares to formally enter the 2016 race Tuesday, he is counting on young conservatives and libertarians like Maschi for energy, votes, and volunteer work.

Many young voters are drawn to Paul's get-government-off-my-neck agenda. He rails against domestic spying by the National Security Agency and other threats to privacy. He advocates reform of the criminal justice system and loosening drug laws. And he de-emphasizes divisive social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.

It's no accident that one of Paul's first events as a declared candidate will be at the University of Iowa student union in heavily Democratic Iowa City.

"No other Republican would do that," said Steve Grubbs, Paul's chief strategist for Iowa, the state that hosts the first votes in the GOP campaign next February. "Rand Paul is in a unique place, as far as his potential to bring new people to the caucuses and the party."

Paul uses Snapchat, trash-talks other candidates on Twitter, and buys targeted attack ads on Google. "If you don't go to a platform where they are, you won't find them," Paul, 52, said recently at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, itself a hipster mélange of music, tech, and culture.

Paul's team hopes to draw historic numbers of young voters to the Republican caucuses and primaries, which have been dominated by older and more evangelical voters.

If it works, he could mirror President Obama, who turned out huge numbers of young and minority voters to swamp Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008. At the other extreme, he could wind up like his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a two-time Republican presidential contender who did not rise beyond libertarian cult figure.

In 2012, Ron Paul dominated the field among voters under 45 in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to entrance and exit polls. The problem for him was that more than two-thirds of the electorate in both states was over 45 - and they went elsewhere.

His son has inherited some of the following and infrastructure, including Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a nonprofit libertarian group that grew out of Ron Paul's presidential campaigns and boasts 500 chapters in 50 states, with 200,000 members. Though the group does not endorse candidates because of its tax status, many members support Rand Paul and have helped organize his events at colleges.

Matthew Boyer, a junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, said he was inspired by Ron Paul's 2012 campaign and his opposition to U.S. involvement overseas and drone strikes, as well as the idea that government had no business defining marriage, a private contract.

"It set me out on an ideological journey," said Boyer, 21, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., who studies government and German. "He was working way outside the normal paradigm, and he stood on principle. He wasn't establishment. He didn't report to anyone besides his constituents."

Now Boyer is YAL's New Jersey chairman and supports Rand Paul for president.

Kaytee Moyer, a Millersville University senior, was a Republican but was disenchanted with the national party's focus on social issues and the expansion of the national security apparatus and preemptive war in Iraq under President George W. Bush.

"I'm not a particularly religious person, so I couldn't find reasons to justify bans on gay marriage," said Moyer, 24, a government major from Harrisburg. She attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, dominated in recent years by libertarians, in 2013 and 2014 and was taken with Rand Paul. "I think he's bringing the Republicans back to a small-government position."

Rand Paul has disappointed some libertarians with departures from orthodoxy they see as pandering to mainstream Republicans. Paul, for instance, is opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion rights (though he says these matters should be decided by the states), and he recently supported a GOP measure to increase the defense budget. He also reversed course and joined other Republican senators in opposing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

"I have really mixed feelings toward him," said Kelly Lynch, leader of the YAL chapter at Rowan University. "He's a stepping-stone in the right direction, but I think he's more of standard Republican than he'd like to portray himself as."

To Boyer, of Rutgers, it's a matter of tactics. "Ron is the ideologue, and Rand is a pragmatist. The only way the liberty movement can survive is to work on solutions that can actually pass and not just say no to anybody who isn't ideologically pure."

He cited Rand Paul's work with Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) on legislation to curtail mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent offenders.

Polling so far finds a generation gap in Paul's appeal. A national Washington Post/ABC News poll released Thursday found he was running a close second to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush among voters under 50, but when it came to voters older than that, he dropped to eighth place in the field.

Paul "has a niche," said independent Washington political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, founder of the eponymous newsletter. He noted Paul's ability to raise money from the grass roots as well as from high rollers in the free-market-oriented Club for Growth.

Paul's biggest challenges? Attracting support among evangelical conservatives, a big part of the GOP coalition, Rothenberg said. And his moves toward a more hawkish worldview may not be enough.

"Foreign policy is turning out to be a much bigger issue than in past cycles, and Rand Paul is out of the mainstream," Rothenberg said. "He's trying to move toward the muscular middle of the Republican Party . . . but he has a record of statements, votes, and positions that leaves him vulnerable to the charge he's an isolationist, he'd make allies nervous."

Her ambivalence about Paul aside, Lynch believes that libertarian is the future of the GOP.

"The Republican base is set in its ways, and they need to seriously evolve on a multitude of levels," said Lynch, a Mount Laurel senior at Rowan who majors in religious studies and rhetoric and grew up in a GOP family.

"I figure in the next 20 years I could probably comfortably join the Republican Party," she said. "As the younger generation comes into the system, it's going to get gradually more libertarian - I don't think it has another option to sustain itself, honestly. Young people are just more open to social change."